Thursday, November 03, 2016

Small Sips Relinquishes Responsibility

Perfect timing. Sometimes, an article comes along at just the right moment that speaks to your own internal stuff. Margaret Marcuson's post on pastoral burnout is such an article. Here she reflects on what she calls the number one reason why pastors burn out:
Overfunctioning: persistently taking on more responsibility than is genuinely yours. 
As Rabbi Edwin Friedman says, “Stress comes less from overwork than from taking responsibility for the problems of others.” I first heard that quote over 20 years ago and it ultimately changed my ministry and my life. You’ve heard that quote from me before and you’ll hear it again – it’s that important.. Most of us in ministry are born and bred to take responsibility for others. The thing is that it doesn’t truly help others and it doesn’t help us. Instead, it leads to burnout in us and stunted growth in others.
"Taking on more responsibility than is genuinely yours" has, in various ways, been a feature of my entire ministry. Fortunately I've developed a keener eye for when I'm doing it and I can take steps to back off. But backing off can be a difficult, intentional thing, especially if people get used to the idea that you're now in charge of certain tasks. In certain cases it becomes a need for systemic change in addition to changing oneself, and that isn't easy either.

Marcuson's article lists a handful of tips to avoid overfunctioning. My favorite right now is her #4: "let your church's future be its responsibility." Pastors can't single-handedly save the church, as much as we sometimes think we can. Let anyone with ears to hear, listen.

Listen some more. Thom Rainer also has a recent post on clergy burnout framed as an autopsy, which also features a handy list of reasons why it happens. Here are the first two:
1. They said “yes” to too many members. In order to avoid conflict and criticism, these pastors tried to please most church members. Their path was not sustainable. Their path was unhealthy, leading to death. 
2. They said “no” to their families. For many of these pastors, their families became an afterthought or no thought at all. Many of their children are now grown and resent the church. They have pledged never to return. Their spouses felt betrayed, as if they were no longer loved, desired, or wanted. Some of these pastors have lost their families to divorce and estrangement.
I've written about both these issues before, including in my book. The temptation to over function for pastors is very real and very strong. They need people in their lives both outside and inside the church to tell them when they're doing too much at the expense of other important parts of their lives.

Why denominational fights matter. Isaac Venegas reflects on sitting on wider church committees and meetings, and the impact they can have in local spaces:
In a room with other church leaders, discerning policies to guide our denomination, I would think of the children in my Sunday school class. I thought of what it means for our church—our congregations and our denomination—to be a safe place for them to explore the mysteries of God, a healthy place for them to learn who God created them to be. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,” says Jesus, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” If heaven belongs to the children, then our church should, too. 
When I think of my Sunday school children, church politics gets personal. I want a church that is for them, for all of them, even the kids who will find out that they are LGBTQ. I want them to know that God made them the way they are, that God’s love is in the way they love—that God didn’t make a mistake. 
I want them to know along the way—week after week, year after year—that they will always be welcomed to speak a word of good news from the pulpit and to take a turn providing child care in the nursery, that they will be able to serve communion and chair committee meetings. I want them to know that I will be thrilled when they tell me about falling in love, and when they ask me marry them—that on their wedding day I will be up there holding back tears as I pronounce them husband and husband, wife and wife, and letting the world know that God blesses their union, that God loves them.
I was a voting delegate at the UCC's General Synod in 2005, the year when it passed a resolution affirming marriage equality. I very clearly recall then-General Minister and President John Thomas walking to a microphone immediately after the vote in a dead-silent room to offer a prayer. As he prayed, I thought about my church: how some would not receive this news gladly, but how others would rejoice and give thanks because it made room for loved ones wondering if they'd be accepted in any church ever.

Many argue that church-wide stuff like this doesn't have an impact. I've seen that it does in positive ways. And so I, too, keep showing up to meetings like these.

Let's build up the church by tearing down others' worship preferences! Wait... David Gibson examines the rising internet pastime of liturgy-shaming:
“That’s where the shame is,” she said. “The shame is not in whatever liturgical dancer was in this video. The shame is in the fact that we as Christians, we Catholics, communicate with each other in ways that are ugly and vitriolic.”
“If our witness to the world is ugliness and shame and vitriol and ridicule and mockery, then that brings shame on our efforts to be authentic evangelizers.”
So what can be done?
Bornhoft said that while he understands the frustration of liturgy shamers, Catholic moral thinking insists that the ends do not justify the means. When legitimate online theological debates lapse into bullying, he said, it’s sinful – which is something faithful Catholics above all should recognize.
I'm not the biggest traditionalist out there, but I have my limits like anyone else. But the way some--Catholics and Protestants--have made liturgy-shaming (and let's throw in clergy fashion-shaming) into a small counter-industry is ridiculous, and this often involves turning minor quibbles into big gigantic non-controversies with a healthy topping of smug, arrogant, meanness.

A piece that usually goes unexamined in these instances is how much the perpetrator's "objective analysis" are an attempted front for their personal preferences, which does involve emotion as much as the intellectual reasoning that they insist is their pure motivator. But I've written about that before.

Trigger warning for this one. Elsa Anders Cook bravely shares her experience of sexual assault, and points out that such things are way more than locker room banter:
It is easier to attach my name and picture to this blog post than it is to look my sister or brother in Christ in the eye and confess this truth. But, there it is: I blame myself for my own sexual assault. 
There is a mighty chorus of Christian voices reminding us all that this news cannot be dismissed as “locker room banter” because words matter. This isn’t a new idea. 
It isn’t all that revelatory except for the fact that it’s been 15 years since that drunken night and I still believe what that boy said about me. I’m still trying to wash away the shame and find the courage to believe that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God.
I don't really have anything to add to this beyond 1) if you need to better understand experiences like this, you should read the whole thing, and 2) if you have had an experience like this and need to hear someone tell you that you, too, are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by God, here it is.

Misc. Jan Edmiston on the difference between pastors being "friends" and "friendly" with church members. Gordon Atkinson on when gifts hurt. David Hayward on terrible Christian t-shirts. Sarah Torna Roberts on being okay with not knowing everything.